Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda wins Palme d’Or for Shoplifters 

Suparna Sharma

Cannes, May 20: Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda on Saturday night won the Palme d’Or for his affecting and shocking film Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku). The film lovingly draws up an endearing and quirky portrait of a close-knit family of thieves and swindlers, and then unravels it swiftly.

“My legs are shaking. I’m really honoured to be here,” Mr Kore-Eda said, accepting the Cannes Film Festival’s highest honour. 

It was the last award on a sombre evening that took off with the Cannes festival putting its feminist foot forward and saying, right at the beginning, mea culpa.

Actress-filmmaker Asia Argento was the first guest to come on stage to announce that disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein will never be welcome again at the festival which was once his hunting ground. 

“In 1997, I was raped by Harvey Weinstein here at Cannes. I was 21 years old. This festival was his hunting ground. I want to make a prediction: Harvey Weinstein will never be welcomed here ever again. He will live in disgrace, shunned by a film community that once embraced him and covered up for his crimes. And even tonight, sitting among you, there are those who still have to be held accountable for their conduct against women for behaviour that does not belong in this industry. You know who you are. But more importantly, we know who you are. And we’re not going to allow you to get away with it any longer,” the Italian actress said, overcome by emotion.

Argento’s impassioned and gutsy speech, that both stunned and moved the audience, also set the tone for the festival’s awards that were announced soon after.

Some of the films picked by the nine-member jury headed by Cate Blanchett honoured cinematic brilliance, but others suggested a gratuitous balancing act between pleasing all and an attempt to exalt itself by making a political statement even if it meant backing some rather mediocre films.

While some awards, like the best actor (male) to Marcelo Fonte for Dogman, best actress to Samal Yeslyamova for her searing performance in Akya, and best director to Pawel Pawlikowski for Cold War, a gorgeous love story loosely inspired by his parents’ lives, went down well, the others rankled.

The jury constituted and awarded the first-ever Palme d’Or Speciale (Special Palme d’Or) to Jean-Luc Godard for The Image Book, though the mostly-incomprehensible montage of political clips and commentary barely qualifies as a feature film.

The Grand Prix, the second most prestigious award of the festival after the Palme d’Or, went to Spike Lee for BlackKklansman. While it may well be the best film Lee has directed, picking it from a line-up of 21 that included Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s brilliant 3 Faces and Stephane Brize’s En Guerre (At War) about worker’s rights in times of globalisation, was a very odd choice.

Another perplexing choice was handing the Prix du Jury (Jury Prize) to Nadine Labaki for Capharnaum, a film that is as touching as it is manipulative. Though the film has exceptional performances by two children — Zain Alrafeea and Yordanos Shifera — its politics is callow and worrying.

 

The jury’s body language during the photo call before the awards ceremony and during the press conference was intriguing. Ms Blanchett seemed to be trying hard to draw the others into the frame and the conversation. Though American filmmaker Ava DuVernay and Canadian director-writer Denis Villeneuve did join after several attempts, the others didn’t seem to be in the mood.

At the jury press conference, Ms Blanchett said, “The world is a very political place, and the media very quickly turns human issues into political issues. As artists working in cinema, we made a pact with one another that we would look at each film as a work of art in and of itself.”

The Palme d’Or Spéciale, she said, was given to Mr Godard for “continually striving to define and redefine what cinema can be.” 

Speaking of BlackKklansman, jury member Ms DuVernay said, “As an African-American filmmaker, I was completely taken by the film, as a person who has imbibed every Spike Lee film and seen everything he’s ever made… it has an exuberance to it that was startling and stunning.”

All questions about whether the jury was divided or unanimous in the choice of awards went unanswered as they hid behind the undertaking they had signed. 

But what was more than apparent was Cannes Film Festival’s convenient doublespeak.

Cannes, which rolled out the red carpet for 82 prominent women in film as they walked up the steps of the Palais des Festivals to represent the 82 women who have been chosen to compete in the festival’s 71-year history, it premiered Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote as the festival’s closing film.

Gilliam has in the past said that Weinstein’s predatory ways benefitted some women and has even likened the #MeToo movement to a “mob rule”.

The festival also invited Danish director Lars Von Trier nine years after it had banned him for saying he understood and sympathised with Hitler. His film, The House That Jack Built, premiered at Cannes.

Icelandic singer Bjork has accused a “Danish director” of sexual harassment. In a Facebook post last year, she wrote that “during the whole filming process there were constant awkward paralysing unwanted whispered sexual offers from him with graphic descriptions”.

Though she hasn’t named the director, in 2000 she won the award for best actress at Cannes for her role in Trier’s Dancer in the Dark.

Just saying mea culpa is meaningless unless Cannes backs it up with tangible action. Not inviting men accused of sexual harassment could be a good start.

 

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